Monday night at Oak Park’s village hall, everything on the agenda turned out more or less the way you’d have expected. But getting there was snarly on both sides of the dais. We’re going to have to do better than this if we want to avoid turning these meetings into a perpetual loop of a Republican congressman’s latest town hall.
Three bright spots redeemed this exercise in local democracy.
Glenn Brewer was standing near me, against the brick wall at the far back of the council chamber. There was a full house assembled over the combination of the minimum wage debate that wasn’t going to happen and the anticipated referral of the Albion high-rise proposal to the Plan Commission.
And Brewer, until last month an eight-year member of the village board, was being nominated for a seat on the Plan Commission. Some conspiracists in the room, lathered up a bit by multiple social media posts during the day, saw a pure political play: Brewer, just defeated for re-election, gets a Plan Commission bone from Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who sees him as a certain vote for the Albion project.
These people certainly don’t know Glenn Brewer — as in they don’t know his record, his exceedingly even approach to issues, and likely, based on the things they are saying out loud about him, they don’t know what he looks like or that he was standing right there.
Commenters at the podium allowed as how Brewer wasn’t “a bad person,” not even “dishonorable.” But he was an election “loser” and the fix, clearly, was in. When one commenter was high-fiving at the back of the chamber after her Brewer takedown, he extended his hand and introduced himself. She looked a bit unsteady and suggested “it isn’t personal.” His simple reply: “It is personal.”
It is a small town. It’s all personal. And we need to remember that before it costs us something special about Oak Park.
Which brings us to the mayor.
Abu-Taleb had a successful night. He got the Albion proposal forwarded to the Plan Commission by a unanimous vote. (Honestly, people, it would be illegal and absurd to think that a developer with an $80 million project would not get a full hearing from a town’s planning commission. Pick your battles.)
So why did he feel it necessary, then, to do a full takedown on the Park District of Oak Park during his comments? It has been clear for years that the park district annoys him. Some of the bad history he spat out Monday night was accurate, some wasn’t. And I agree with him that the park board reacted too strongly and too early when it issued an almost door-closing statement on Albion months back.
But in the reporting I’ve done, the park district has a more pragmatic side that recognizes it will need to be at the table if Albion moves forward. Abu-Taleb made that possibility unnecessarily tougher with his screed Monday night. And it just isn’t right. This is not the way we should be talking to each other.
The bright spots? In general, the wide range of public comments over the minimum wage were highly respectful of the tough call this is. Specifically, the statement made by Cathy Yen, executive director of the Chamber, was strong and inclusive. We need to pull together to support our workers and our small business owners/neighbors. If we don’t, our small businesses will wither.
Trustee Simone Boutet made a point echoed on our editorial page today. The trustees need to figure out the balance on how to use Facebook to share information while not allowing it to become a replacement for actual public debate.
And Trustee Dan Moroney was eloquent in asking the public, in part his supporters, to respect the people and the process at the board table. It is, he said, “a huge job” and everyone there “loves Oak Park.”